Criminal actions usually begin when a person is arrested and taken into police custody. They will be searched for contraband or evidence connecting them to the suspected crime and fingerprinted at the precinct. If the alleged offense is too serious for the person to qualify for a Desk Appearance Ticket (which permits a defendant to leave and appear for arraignment at a later date), they are taken to Central Booking and the arresting officer speaks to an Assistant District Attorney about the case. Nearly all felonies, misdemeanors, and violations are arraigned in the Criminal Court of the City of New York. Defendants usually appear before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. If they cannot afford an attorney or hire one in time, one is appointed for them prior to the arraignment.
If a defendant intends to plead guilty, they usually do so at the arraignment, although a guilty plea can be entered at a later stage. If they plead guilty, the judge proceeds to sentence them. However, if the defendant is accused of a felony and there is no option of pleading to a misdemeanor instead, they are not asked to enter a plea. If bail is appropriate given the crime, the Assistant District Attorney will request that bail be set and lay out the conditions. For more serious cases like murder, the court will remand the defendant without bail. New York State law directs that all felony cases must be brought before the Grand Jury, which may vote an indictment. If that happens, the case is adjourned to a Supreme Court Arraignment Part. Even after the arraignment, the case does not proceed directly to trial. Instead, the case is adjourned again, this time to a Supreme Court Calendar Part. It is during this stage that the defense attorney can file motions to deal with certain legal issues surrounding the process and the defendant can plead guilty if that is their decision.
The next stage, a criminal trial, is an official presentation of evidence before a court or jury to determine whether or not the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the charges against them. The defendant does not legally have to present any evidence or testify, and witnesses for the defense may be cross-examined by the Assistant District Attorney (ADA). If a jury finds a defendant guilty or the defendant pleads guilty, sentencing takes place. A judge may sentence the person to a prison term, probation, a conditional or unconditional discharge, or levy a fine. Sentences are regulated by statutes that dictate which crimes incur a mandatory prison sentence and which ones have leeway in terms of punishments. When deciding on a sentence, the judge examines the circumstances of the crime and the defendant’s role in it, as well as his or her history and background.
State and federal law requires the prosecution to provide certain case-related material to the defendant. But it sometimes happens that key information is intentionally withheld until the last minute, a practice that prosecutors are permitted to do with certain types of evidence under state law, and then dumped on the defense in an ambush-style manner.
Open file discovery is a safeguard against evidence-related violations. Defense attorneys are granted wider access to the information in the prosecution’s case file, preventing unpleasant surprises. This practice eliminates the risk that a prosecutor will fail to turn over exculpatory evidence in time for the defense to present it to a jury.
- On December 18, 2013 the Manhattan District Attorney’s office announced that a three-year investigation had uncovered evidence of fraud and commercial bribery in the city’s electrical contracting industry. Among the defendants was Bar Electrical Consulting Inc., a Long Island-based shell company used to solicit bribes from companies that wanted to do business with Unity Electric Company.
- On March 14, 2012 Long Island attorney Robert Cassandro was indicted for stealing more than $4.6 million from family members and for defrauding victims through a Ponzi scheme. The defendant was charged with Grand Larceny in the First Degree and Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree.